Volunteering groups have said a new scheme that will make it compulsory for some school pupils to take part in community work should not be classed as volunteering.
The scheme for 14 to 16-year-olds, which is provisionally being referred to as 'community service', will be funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families and run by youth volunteering charity v. Schools that take part in it will be able to make community work a compulsory part of their curriculums.
Justin Davis Smith, chief executive of Volunteering England, said: "If participation is compulsory, then of course it is not volunteering, and some other term should be used to describe the scheme. It might seem pedantic, but language is important here to avoid confusion.
"Our strong preference would be for a voluntary scheme, but if the programme is to be compulsory then the quality of the experience is all important."
Debbie Usiskin, vice chair of the Association of Volunteer Managers, said: "In a society that is perceived to be interested in ‘what's in it for me’, it is heartening to see schemes such as this that promote community responsibility in our younger generations.
"We hope that host organisations are given adequate support and resources to make this project a success," she added.
Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, chief executive of CSV, said that although the scheme should not be called volunteering, a scheme of "curriculum-related service learning" could be effective.
She pointed out that v had departed from its mission of working with 16 to 25-year-olds but said she "couldn't possibly comment" on whether this was a good idea.
Jamie Thomas, chief executive of third sector consultancy firm the Red Foundation, commented on internet forum i-volunteer about the new scheme: "I think v is pretty brave to take this on," he said. "I don't support enforced community service in any form, but as the Government has decided to go ahead with it, it makes sense that it is linked to existing youth volunteering projects, even if it's not strictly volunteering."
The new scheme follows the announcement by Gordon Brown in April last year that he wanted all teenagers to complete 50 hours of volunteering before the age of 19.